Nine candidates for City Council appear at forum

Economic development tools that the city uses to attract and develop businesses came under fire Saturday from many of the candidates running for seats on the Wichita City Council.

Nine candidates appeared at the forum in west Wichita sponsored by Republican Women United.

Their views varied between those who reject the use of incentives like tax increment financing districts, community improvement districts and industrial revenue bonds, and those who think such tools can be useful.

Forum participants included District 2 candidates Charlie Stevens, Om Chauhan, and Pete Meitzner; District 3 candidates Mark Gietzen, James Clendenin and Clinton Coen; District 4 candidates Don McManamey and Michael O'Donnell; and District 5 candidate Lynda Tyler.

District 2 and District 4 candidates are running for the seats to be vacated by Sue Schlapp and Paul Gray, respectively, who cannot run again because of term limits.

District 3 candidates are campaigning for the seat Jim Skelton left when he joined the Sedgwick County Commission.

Tyler is running against incumbent Jeff Longwell.

All but District 5 have March 1 primaries.

District 2 candidate Stevens said he'd "almost never" vote for a tax increment financing district and never for a community improvement district, and that industrial revenue bonds should be used only for industries, not for things like hotels, apartments or assisted-living facilities.

"These programs have far outreached what they were originally intended to be," he said.

But Chauhan said people don't understand the incentives and that they are good tools.

"It depends on how well you use them. If I give you a hammer and you hit yourself in the head with it, it's a bad tool," he said.

Meitzner said tax increment financing districts have their place, but need to be understood. Some areas of town have benefited from them, he said.

"Old Town would still be old if it wasn't for TIFs," he said. "They do have their place. They shouldn't be everywhere."

District 3 candidates had the same split. Gietzen said that in most circumstances he would oppose the three forms of incentives, and any form of government involvement in the free market.

The only time he'd favor one is if there is no other option.

"These methods are all extremely expensive in that they require so much legal work and so much paper work and so much bureaucracy that you're paying much more than it looks like on paper," he said.

Clendenin said the incentives need to be carefully examined case by case.

"We've got other cities we're competing against, and we're trying to keep jobs from leaving our city," he said.

But Coen called them "nothing more than corporate welfare.

"They do not benefit the people," he said, "they just benefit the businesses and the government."

District 4 candidate McManamey said the incentives would be a "hard sell" for him.

"I don't think we win when we pick winners and losers and start passing money around like it's fruit," he said.

O'Donnell said he might not vote against every tax increment finance or community improvement district, but "I'd definitely flirt with that."

"We don't need to be in development at the city of Wichita," he said.